Authors: Kerry Greenwood
Tags: #A Phryne Fisher Mystery
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Praise for Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series
‘Phryne Fisher is gutsy and adventurous, and also well endowed with plenty of grey matter. She has it over Robicheaux and Poirot because she’s drop-dead gorgeous.’
‘Fisher is a sexy, sassy and singularly modish character. Her 1920s Melbourne is racy, liberal and a city where crime occurs on its shadowy, largely unlit streets.’
‘Greenwood is the class act of local crime writing.’
‘A joy to read.’
‘Snappy one-liners and the ability to fight like a wildcat are appealing in a central character.’
‘Greenwood’s prose has a dagger in its garter; her hero is raunchy and promiscuous in the best sense.’
‘Manners and attitude maketh the PI, and Phryne is, as always, perfect.’
The Book Bulletin
‘Greenwood is a gifted storyteller with a light, sharp touch.’
Australian Book Review
‘Smart, sharp, incredibly stylish, fearless individual and completely irresistible—and that’s just the heroine!’
The Geelong Times
Queen of Flowers - Pages 16/3/04 4:38 PM Page ii KERRY GREENWOOD is the author of twenty-seven novels and the editor of two collections.
Previous novels in the Phryne Fisher series are
Flying too High
Murder on the
Death at Victoria Dock
Green Mill Murder, Blood and Circuses
Raisins and Almonds
Before Wicket, Away with the Fairies
The Castlemaine Murders
She is also the author of several books for young adults and the Delphic Women series, and is the holder of the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award 2003.
When she is not writing Kerry is an
advocate in Magistrates’ Courts for the Legal Aid Commission. She is not married, has no children and lives with a registered Wizard.
Queen of Flowers - Pages 16/3/04 4:38 PM Page iii QUEEN OF THE
A Phryne Fisher
Queen of Flowers - Pages 16/3/04 4:38 PM Page iv First published in 2004
Copyright © Kerry Greenwood 2004
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
Allen & Unwin
83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065
Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100
(61 2) 9906 2218
Email: [email protected]
National Library of Australia
Queen of the Flowers: a Phryne Fisher mystery.
1 74114 246 6
1. Fisher, Phryne (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Detective and mystery stories. I. Title. (Series: Phryne Fisher).
Set in 11.5 pt Adobe Garamond by Midland Typesetters Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Queen of Flowers - Pages 16/3/04 4:38 PM Page v This book is for Christine Day,
a real Queen of the flowers.
With thanks to Dennis Pryor, Mark Pryor and Ben Pryor, David Greagg and Richard Revill, the inimitable Jean ‘I’m sure I can find it somewhere, dear’ Greenwood, Jenny Pausacker, Joss Whedon, Edgar Allen Poe, James ‘Charlie’ Ferrari, Adrian Munro, and A.W. Greenwood, who taught me many
valuable things, including never, never to draw to an inside straight.
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Le bon Papa est capable du tout
(the good father is capable of anything).
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And how Horatius held the bridge
In the brave days of yore.
Thomas Babbington, Lord Macauley
Lays of Ancient Rome
The elephant was the last straw.
All day Mr Butler, strangely resembling Cerberus except for the number of heads, had kept the world at bay. The Hon.
Miss Phryne Fisher was engaged in a solemn ritual and all visitors were to be refused, all tradesmen redirected and all tres-passers prosecuted. The bell was not to ring and disturb the votaries’ concentration. A holy hush must be maintained.
The household had been dispersed for this special occasion.
Miss Ruth and Miss Jane had been banished to the moving pictures to see an improving newsreel and a cowboy adventure, have lunch at a suitable café and spend the afternoon blamelessly at the museum. The dog Molly had been muzzled with the femur of what must have been an ox, or possibly a mammoth.
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QUEEN OF THE FLOWERS
Mrs Butler had put on her good coat and gone hat shopping in the city, leaving a cold collation under a mist of muslin on the dining room table. Dorothy, Miss Phryne’s maid and inseparable companion, had naturally joined the rites in attendance, as had the cat Ember. Three times Dot had crept down the stairs to tell Mr Butler that so far it was all going well.
And Mr Butler had kept the door, valiantly turning aside three hawkers (of infallible washing powders, fly repellents and an ingenious new form of mouse-trap), seven society visitors and a worried representative from the mayor’s office, calling about another minor detail in the forthcoming Flower Parade.
All of these he had awed into leaving cards and departing quietly, closing the gate silently behind them. He was just allowing himself to lean a little into the porch, mopping his brow and wondering how long this could possibly go on, when an elephant stepped easily over the front fence and stood face to face with him.
It was surprisingly large. It had small, wise eyes set into deep wrinkles and for a moment Mr Butler and the elephant stared at each other without moving or reacting. Mr Butler was so astonished that he could not think of anything to say except
‘Shoo!’ and he did not think that wise, in view of the newly planted dahlias.
They stood there, an interesting tableau out of an Anglo-Indian painting. Then the elephant, obviously feeling that the first move in this new friendship was up to her, lifted her trunk and gently took the handkerchief out of Mr Butler’s nerveless hand. She patted delicately at his brow and made a small, absurd squeaking noise. It sounded sympathetic.
‘Thank you,’ said Mr Butler, a broken man.
‘Phryne in?’ enquired a voice, and Mr Butler looked up into the eyes of a raddled, middle-aged woman with fiery red hair,
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seated astride the elephant’s neck. ‘Flossie’s taken to you, I see.
She’s the nicest elephant I’ve ever had, I’ll say that for her.’
Mr Butler gathered what wits he had left. ‘Miss Fisher is engaged,’ he said. ‘She is not at home to visitors today.’
‘Too bad,’ said the woman. ‘I’m Dulcie Fanshawe of Fanshawe’s elephants. Well, you might have guessed, eh? Any chance of a bucket of water for Flossie? And a cup of tea for me? We’ve just got off the train and they’re still setting up down by the beach.’
‘If you can keep your animal . . . er . . . Flossie, quiet, madam, that can be arranged,’ said Mr Butler. Miss Dulcie Fanshawe’s hair was definitely artificial and her trousers were scandalous but she had a genuine, charming smile. And Miss Phryne would never turn aside a person or even an elephant in need of sustenance.
‘She won’t give trouble,’ said Dulcie. ‘Elephants are very quiet beasts.’
‘Just walk her along to the back, then,’ said Mr Butler.
‘The kitchen door is open. I have to keep the door until Miss Fisher’s at liberty to receive guests.’
‘What is she doing?’ asked Miss Fanshawe, permitting Flossie to lift her down and taking hold of one large, flapping ear.
Mr Butler told her. Miss Fanshawe grinned. ‘How long has she been at it, then?’ she asked.
‘Since nine this morning.’ Mr Butler finally did allow himself to lean into the porch and Flossie mopped his brow again. He observed the delicate, fingered ends of her trunk and the fine control she had over her grasp. She smelt strongly of hay.
‘Lord, you poor man! Now, Floss, give the nice man back his hankie and we’ll get you a drink.’
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QUEEN OF THE FLOWERS
Flossie returned Mr Butler’s handkerchief, gave his hair a light caress, and followed Miss Fanshawe around the side of the house to the kitchen.
Mr Butler resumed his vigil. Time was elapsing. The cold collation had been eaten on the run, standing, while discussing and arguing. The girls would be back soon, as would Mrs Butler, who would need to get the dinner started and show Mr Butler her new hat. Miss Phryne had better get a wriggle on or she was going to have disturbances which Mr Butler could not prevent.
Just then he remembered that Molly and her dinosaur bone were in the back garden. How, he wondered, would the black and white mongrel react to Flossie?
Nothing he could do about it from here, he thought, and at last heard the long-anticipated sounds of women reassuming coats, putting on hats, packing up, and chattering their way down the hall to his closely guarded door. At last. He felt like a sentry who had been relieved of his post long after he had assumed himself forgotten.
The rite was concluded. Miss Fisher’s new dress had been fitted. Mr Butler bowed out Madame Fleuri, a grim devotee of the mode, her two assistants and her three seamstresses.
Miss Fisher and Dot waved them goodbye.
And Mr Butler shut the front door just as Molly, waking from a deep post-prandial nap in the asparagus bed, encountered her first elephant and entirely lost her poise. Howling, she fled into the house and dived under Miss Fisher’s chair. After a while a small black nose stuck out from under the fringe, quivering.
Miss Phryne Fisher was dressed in a bright red house gown.
She had put it on and taken it off eighteen times. She had listened to long lectures about fashion and stood unmoving as swatches of cloth were draped, pinned, whipped off and on and
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pinned again. For seven hours. She had gulped down her lunch and was feeling hungry, thirsty and frayed. She did not need an irruption of hysterical dogs into her now-quiet house.
‘Molly?’ asked Phryne wearily. ‘What is the matter?’
‘I think it was meeting Flossie,’ said Miss Fanshawe, escorted in by Mr Butler. ‘All the circus dogs are used to elephants, I’d forgotten how a nice urban dog might react. Sorry to drop in on you like this when you’ve had such an exhausting day, Phryne, but I came looking for a drink for Flossie and remembered that you lived here.’
‘Dulcie Fanshawe!’ Phryne jumped up. Molly declined to move. Until someone came up with a reasonable explanation for elephants, she was staying where she was. ‘Come in, sit down, have a drink, how are you? I haven’t seen you since London!’
‘Can’t stop,’ said Miss Fanshawe. ‘Come and meet Flossie.
I can’t leave her in that pretty little garden for long. Far too many edible plants.’
Phryne followed Dulcie to the garden and found that Flossie had not fancied any of the vegetation on offer but was sucking up a lot of water from a bucket, continuously replen-ished with the hose.
‘I took her for a little constitutional down by the sea and she would keep tasting the foam,’ explained Dulcie Fanshawe.
‘Too much salt is very bad for elephants and they’re setting up the show right by the sea, on the sand. There,’ she said to the gurgling elephant, ‘that feels better, I’ll warrant. Poor old Floss!
I bought her from a frightful little road show—filthy place—
where they kept her chained all the time. See the scars around her ankles? She was dying from pneumonia and neglect and loneliness and I got her for a song and a threat to report the owner to the RSPCA. I reported him anyway. If I’d had my way we would have chained him by the leg in filthy straw for
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QUEEN OF THE FLOWERS
a few months to see how he liked it. Horrible man. Then I sat up with Flossie for a week until she started to recover and she took to Rani and Kali right away. But she’s the nicest elephant I’ve ever met. And the worst treated. Humans.’
‘I know, as a species we have nothing to recommend ourselves. How did you end up in Australia?’ asked Phryne.
‘Well, with the three elephants I had a show, and we were something of a hit,’ said Miss Fanshawe modestly. ‘And none of us like the cold. Flossie’s got a weak chest, poor girl. So we took Wirth up on his offer and came out here. Nice place,’ she said. ‘Kali likes the beer and I like the climate.’
Mr Butler brought a tray of drinks into the garden. Flossie squeaked her pleasure at renewing their acquaintance and he unbent far enough to pat her trunk.